At the age of 96, retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ira Walton hasn’t stopped moving since he retired from the Army in 1974.
His big secret to living a long, healthy life?
“I’ve never smoked and I play table tennis,” Walton said. “Some people call it ping pong, but table tennis is really the name of the game.”
Long before beating competitors half his age, Walton was beating other Soldiers in the game of table tennis while serving in the Army, winning several awards during his 31 year career. Now, the Waco-native said he continues to play five days a week and has continued to rack up the awards.
As a member of the Waco Table Tennis Club, Walton has represented his club and Army veterans by winning the gold medal at the National Veterans Golden Age Games for 27 years.
“Out of 30 years, I won gold 27 years for table tennis,” Walton said. “In total, I’ve won 98 medals in the games.”
Besides table tennis, he said he competes in checkers, chess and shuffleboard, and picked up his latest gold medals in June, during the National Veterans Golden Age Games, which was held in Anchorage, Alaska. During the 2018 competition, Walton was inducted into the National Veterans Golden Age Games Hall of Fame.
At the height of World War II, the Texas-native received his draft notice from the Army Air Corps. Walton voluntarily transferred to the Army, assigned to the 372nd Infantry Regiment, where he served as a machine-gunner. After the fighting stopped, he said Soldiers were given the opportunity to transfer out. Walton was discharged on Dec. 30, 1945, but after 88 days back in the civilian world, he decided to return to active duty, because he missed the comradery he shared with other service members.
Walton served 4.5 years in Europe, stationed in Germany and Austria, before being sent to Japan soon after the Korean War began. In October 1950, Walton was sent to North Korea, where he drove a truck, transporting ammunition and food to troops throughout the country.
After requesting a transfer to Fort Hood, so he could be close to home, Walton married his childhood sweetheart Christine Lee in 1952. Christine passed away in 2006, after more than 50 years of marriage. Together, they had five children.
Walton would go on to reenlist several times, hopping back and forth from the United States to Europe, before a warrant officer at Fort Bliss encouraged him to put in his warrant officer packet. Two months later, he was bound for Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for warrant officer training, followed by his first of two tours in Vietnam.
“I didn’t have to go to Vietnam because my brother got wounded and died and I was the sole survivor,” he explained. “But I felt obligated to go. I wasn’t going to complain, so I went to Vietnam with the 92nd (Engineer Battalion).”
Serving as a supply officer, Walton said he would spend hours daily looking for supplies the battalion could use. The battalion built a bridge across the Saigon River, connecting to the 25th Infantry Division’s main supply route.
“When they construct, you see the evidence of your work,” Walton said proudly.
On Jan. 31, 1968, while serving as the duty officer in charge, North Vietnamese forces staged a series of coordinated attacks, now called the Tet Offensive. Walton said there was fighting in every direction, but somehow he remained unscathed in the bloodiest battle of Vietnam, which killed 3,470 allied forces and injured more than 12,000.
“I was very fortunate,” Walton said. “Every day I give thanks because of my good fortune.”
After 10 months in Vietnam, Walton was sent to Germany, but seven months later, he received orders back to Vietnam.
“I wrote a personal letter … I didn’t type it, I wrote it, telling them I just came back from Vietnam,” he explained. “They wrote me a personal letter back and said that warrant officers with my MOS only have to go for six months.”
Allowing him to choose his next assignment after serving in Vietnam, Walton requested Fort Hood, where he served with the 1st Cavalry Division. After four more years at Fort Hood, Walton retired from the Army in 1974, but didn’t retire from working.
He worked at the Waco Veterans Affairs Regional Office for 14 years, before retiring in 1988. Soon after, he began playing table tennis competitively, as a member of the Waco Table Tennis Club. Walton said he enjoys table tennis because it exercises his body and mind.
“It’s a game of exercise for one thing,” Walton said. “But you also have to analyze your opponent and decide on what to counter based on the strokes they make.”
Walton remains active and recently attended Fort Hood’s annual Retiree Appreciation Weekend.